I have today written to Christian Concern, a lobby group opposed to same-sex marriage. I decided to do so in response to claims they have made regarding a change in the law announced this week.
The government has announced that the ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises will be lifted on 5 December. This is good news for those of us who campaigned for and supported this change, and it’s been a long time coming. The change was approved by Parliament in the Equality Act, passed in April 2010. It’s taken the coalition government this long to implement it.
The change does not go far enough. This is not same-sex marriage. It still does not provide all people with equality before the law, regardless of their gender, sexuality, religious or non-religious views.
The Equality Bill, rightly, makes very clear that no church or other faith group should be obliged to host same-sex partnerships if they do not believe in them. Despite this, Christian Concern claimed in a press release on Wednesday that ”It is almost certain that homosexual campaigners will commence litigation against churches that refuse”.
I have sent the following email to Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern.
Dear Andrea and colleagues,
Thank you for your press release giving Christian Concern’s views on the change in the law with regard to civil partnerships on religious premises.
You’re probably aware that this is a subject on which we disagree, although I of course respect your right to a different view, as well as your right to put out statements expressing your own views. I think this is important for free speech and religious liberty.
Please can you explain the following sentence in your press release? ”It is almost certain that homosexual campaigners will commence litigation against churches that refuse”. This claim appears early on in your press release and was quoted in today’s Church Times.
Please can you let me know of any campaign groups, or individual campaigners, of whom you are aware, who are planning to take such action, or have discussed the possibility of doing so?
When campaigning for a change in the law, I strongly emphasised my conviction that no church or other faith group should be required to carry out ceremonies in which they do not believe. As far as I’m aware, this is the position of every religious group that has campaigned for this change. In terms of non-religious campaigners, I know that Peter Tatchell is against any attempt to force churches to host civil partnerships or carry out same-sex weddings. I am aware that Ben Summerskill of Stonewall made a vague comment along the lines of “this may change”, with regard to the right of faith groups not to host same-sex ceremonies. But this is not Stonewall policy and I am not aware of him having taken the idea further. This is very different to anyone planning to “commence litigation”.
Your release asserts that litigation is not merely possible or even likely, but “almost certain”. Such a claim cannot realistically be sustained unless you are aware of a campaign group or campaigner seriously considering legal action. If you can provide me with the name or names of such a group or campaigner, then I will readily admit that the statement is not necessarily inaccurate. If you cannot do so, I hope you will recognise that it is misleading, and therefore apologise and withdraw the claim.
I look forward to hearing from you.